Reflections on the 2019 World Pipe Band Championships – Part 2

The Grade 1 Medley competition as always produced a varied range of tune selections, ingenuity, innovative approaches, intricate piping and drumming, quality playing to a very high level, and varied musical impacts.  For me the best musical performances were those which included a blend of traditional and contemporary tunes (melodic ones), tunes which fitted well together and avoided too long and complicated transitions, avoided complex harmonies and counter melodies where the original tune becomes lost, and those which provided the opportunity to showcase player dexterity, integration and the balance of the harmonic capabilities of the instruments. 

By Alistair Aitken OBE

I am conscious that there are widely varying views on this, but personally I think it wise not to extend too far beyond the boundaries of what has long been regarded as Scotland’s traditional pipe band music.

It would be wrong for me to comment on each individual band performance as I was not hearing them in the same way as the adjudicators.  Set against the foregoing criteria, and listened in a collective ‘pipe band’ context, the bands which stood out for me (in the order they played) were:

Simon Fraser University – a nicely varied and very musical performance, with very good interpretation and influence from the drummers.

P/M Alan Bevan of SFU at the 2019 Worlds…his band produced a very musical performance

Inveraray & District – had the best of the weather as they did previously at Dumbarton.  Excellent clarity of playing with arguably a more subtle than normal musical influence from the drummers.  The whole performance was well integrated as a band and produced excellent rhythmic flow.

Scottish Power – an excellent demonstration of precise playing with good musical effect.  The drum corps was not quite as dominant as others but a good balance with the pipers in terms of sound and musical effect.  I detected what I thought were a couple of minor integration issues between pipes and drums but that could have been other sound distractions.

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Boghall & Bathgate – my best sound balance of the competition between pipes and drums in terms of sweetness of tone and weight variation.  A well-constructed medley and the whole performance flowed in a relaxed and very musical manner, ably assisted by the drummers.  

Field Marshal Montgomery – trademark big sound with excellent balance between pipes and drums.  Quality and confident playing with excellent clarity, smooth time signature changes and integrated stereo sound.  Finished on a high with ‘The Hard Drive’.

Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia – lovely, clear piping sound and well integrated playing.  Where I was sitting the drum corps sound was a little light in relation to the pipes and did not project through as clearly, but the combination was nevertheless very musical.

Lovely, clear piping sound from Shotts

St Laurence O’Toole – another well integrated band performance.  Clarity of piping and drumming and band integration were very good, and the musical interpretation of the drum corps was also excellent, although perhaps a shade too dominant at times.  My main comment, however, was that the sound from the snare drums did not balance properly with the piping pitch. 

SLoT at the 2019 Worlds …. new drums?

It seemed to me that the drums were new from the previous championship at Dumbarton.  The sound from the top was very crisp and there was good snare response from the bottom.  The overall projected sound, however, seemed rather ‘hollow’ as if it the shell was not resonating the sound properly.  I had the same impression from all four of the band’s performances and each time I was sitting in different places in the stand.

My pick of first three in the Friday Medley contest would have been Field Marshal Montgomery, Inveraray & District and Scottish Power in that order.

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The medley competition on Saturday turned out to be a little different as the bands were playing their other medley and the weather was better, but the temperature varied during the competition which no doubt again affected tuning.  Luckily it did not rain for long.  This time the performances which for me stood out (in the order they played) were:

St Laurence O’Toole – another spirited and musical performance with excellent clarity, interpretation and integration.  My only comment of significance was that the snare drum sound again did not quite balance with the bagpipes.

Police Scotland Fife – for me much better than the Friday medley.  The impression I gained was that at times the drummers were emphasising more the second beat in each bar of the strathspey rather than the first, causing a little imbalance of the rhythm between drummers and pipers.  I also felt that the gradual transition to the jigs resulted in a slight loss of momentum.  However, the overall performance was still very musical, and I was also very impressed by the flourishing of the tenor drummers, particularly in the slow air.

Fife Police – much better than on the Friday

Inveraray and District – another well-constructed medley with excellent band balance and playing clarity, with tempos just on the edge adding to the excitement.  Perhaps the piping sound was not quite as strong as on the Friday.

Field Marshal Montgomery – another typical FMM performance which was difficult to find any fault with in terms of playing clarity, integration, drum corps influence or balance of sound.  The playing was relaxed, fluent and musical.  My only real comment was that the medley did not quite have the same dynamic effect as the Friday one.

Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia – again an excellent balance of sound between pipes and drums.  A nice ‘dancy’ strathspey rhythm and another demonstration of relaxed and musical playing.

Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia – another fine performance but the drum corps again did not project through clearly.  I thought more musical effect could have been achieved in the slow air and found one of the transitions between tunes rather complicated.

Boghall….excellent balance of sound

Scottish Power – a lively and confident display of a well-constructed medley.  The playing was clear and the band balance was good, with excellent effect from the drummers.  It was difficult to find any fault and it was one of the best musical performances I have heard from the band.

Simon Fraser University – this was another very competent musical performance with good influence from the drummers, including the bass section.  I thought I detected a possible slight loss of integration between pipes and drums in the last part of the strathspeys.

With some difficulty, my choice of first three in this competition would have been Scottish Power, Inveraray & District and Field Marshal Montgomery in that order.  I have to acknowledge, however, that the most consistent band in both medley competitions was Inveraray & District, and that was reflected in the final results.

  • To conclude with geenral thoughts on the two-day format for Grade 1. Read more about the 2019 Worlds here.
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